Europe is a continent filled with amazing sights and experiences, but most people stick to the major tourist destinations. In this article, I take a look at some of my favourite underrated places to visit in Europe for your next vacation.
From off the beaten path cities to secluded mountain ranges, check out these European hidden gems that are locked away in the undiscovered corners of the continent.
Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to yourself.
Best Hidden Gems in Europe to Visit: Secret Towns to Off the Beaten Path Islands
Alta in Arctic Norway
Where: Located well above the Arctic Circle, the hidden gem of Alta in Norway is known as the “town of the Northern lights”. Alta has a population of 20,000 people and is the largest town in the Finnmark County in Norway. It can be reached by plane or by car in a few hours from Tromso.
Why: Alta is a great place to experience the polar night, meaning for several months the sun doesn’t rise at all and it is pitch black most of the day. It takes some getting used to but the darkness encourages the perfect conditions to view the Northern lights.
Don’t miss: Other popular winter activities in Alta include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, dogsledding, cross country skiing, and reindeer sledding. There are also some beautiful landmarks to visit such as the Northern Lights Cathedral, Alta Museum and the famous Alta canyon.
Where to stay: If you’re looking for something unique, stay at the igloo hotel in Sorrisniva. It is rebuilt from scratch every year with a new design. Another must stay, is Trasti and Trine, a boutique hotel with some of the best dog sledding in Alta, and an incredible restaurant with a locally sourced menu.
Bela Krajina in Slovenia
Where: Off the beaten track but just as beautiful as the rest of the country, Bela Krajina, in the Southeast is one of the best places to visit in Slovenia. From the capital, Ljubljana, Bela Krajina is a 1.5 hour drive or a 2.5 hour train ride to Metlika (16 Eur return).
Why: Located on the border of Croatia, the region is covered in lush green countryside, vineyards and sparkling turquoise rivers. There are plenty of outdoor activities, including kayaking, hiking, paddle boarding, cycling and canoeing.
There are also an array of cultural activities to take part in, that will give you a taste of the real Slovenia such as oil tasting at Oljarne Pečarič, traditional bread making at Domačija Šraj, and local wine tasting at Malnaric winery.
Don’t miss: Summer is a great time to visit, as whilst the crowds flock to Lake Bled, Bela Krajina will have limited tourists and you’ll likely be able to explore the sites on your own, especially the beautiful Krupa river spring.
Where to stay: It is recommended to stay two or three nights to really get a taste of the region, and the Big Berry resort on Kolpa River is one of the best places to stay.
Gothenburg in Sweden
Where: Gothenburg is Sweden’s second largest city and is easy to reach by plane or bus from other major cities in the region.
Why: The city can be visited all year round but it is particularly magical in December when it is turned into a winter wonderland. There are several different Christmas markets found in Gothenburg, but the most popular is held at Liseberg theme park, where you can shop at the market stalls, ride the rollercoasters, and watch a festive ice skating show.
Don’t miss: Visit Haga, where there are rows of food market stalls selling Swedish festive sweet treats like cinnamon rolls, glogg (a sweet mulled wine), and Pepparkaka (thin and crispy gingerbread biscuit).
Where to stay: Hotel Bellora, it is centrally located and only a short tram ride from each of the Christmas markets in Gothenburg.
Minster Lovell in Cotswolds UK
Where: The quaint and beautiful Cotswolds village of Minster Lovell is found in Witney.
Why: This underrated English village is rarely visited but has some beautiful things to see, especially the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall. Set next to the picturesque River Windrush, the manor house was built in the 15th century by one of the richest men in England, but has been left in ruins since the 18th century and is currently looked after by English Heritage.
Don’t miss: The ruins are especially beautiful in Autumn when they are surrounded by colourful leaves, but regardless of when you visit make sure you try the afternoon tea in the beautiful gardens and meadows of Minster Mill.
Where to stay: Book a cosy Cotswolds cottage with a hot tub or try out one of these well rated Airbnbs or glamping sites.
Mount Teide in Tenerife
Where: The island of Tenerife is one of Europe’s most popular winter sun destinations, and is home to Spains highest point, Mount Teide (3715m). It is an active volcano, and the surrounding National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Why: The Mars-like landscapes of this volcano are incredible. There are several viewpoints above the clouds that each give you a different experience, and if the cable car is running, you can take an eight minute ride up to the peak.
Visiting this volcano reminded me of the week I spent in Atacama desert in Chile, the otherworldly landscapes are so similar, but Tenerife is so much closer to home, and I was able to visit on a Tenerife cruise shore excursion.
Don’t miss: Stay until the evening and stargaze from Mount Teide. Most people don’t know this but Tenerife is the best place to stargaze in Europe due to it’s low light pollution and high altitude. It is one of the reasons why Mount Teide is home to a number of international telescopes.
Where to stay: One of the best places to stay in Tenerife is GF Victoria, I spent five nights here, and can happily recommend the rooftop bar, the infinity pool and the amazing breakfast spread!
Vilnius in Lithuania
Where: The Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius is one of my favourite places for a weekend break in Europe, it is located in the Baltics next to some of the other most underrated countries in Europe, Latvia and Estonia.
Why: This city has it all from fun street art to colourful buildings, an impressive number of churches and tonnes of green spaces. It is also one of the most affordable capital cities in Europe.
Food is a big part of the culture here and its worth trying their local delicacies of hot potato pancakes and cold beetroot soup, both delicious!
Don’t miss: Drive 30-40 minutes outside of Vilnius to Trakai National Park, which houses the picturesque Trakai Island castle. Explore the area by water, by taking a sunset kayaking tour around the lakes or take the skies and do a hot air balloon ride over the castle, I did both activities and can highly recommend them.
Where to stay: The old town of Vilnius has plenty of places to stay including the Artis Centrum Hotel which are located within walking distance of most of the cities attractions.
Rila Mountains in Bulgaria
Where: Only 70km from the capital, Sofia, the Rila mountains extend over 2400 square kms and are home to some of the Balkan’s highest peaks, including Mount Vihren (2,914m) and Mount Musala (2,925m).
Why: The Rila Mountains are one of Europe’s most overlooked mountain ranges, and can be appreciated by hikers, spa goddesses and culture vultures.
Rila’s landscape is characterised by sunken valleys, alpine meadows, granite peaks and nearly 200 glacial lakes. Many of the mountains are connected by hiking trails and seasonal mountain huts (Summer/Autumn only).
Don’t miss: Visiting during Autumn is a great idea. It means you can escape the sub-zero temperatures, which freeze the mountains for much of the rest of the year, and it is a wonderful time of year for photography as the entire landscape turns a beautiful warm yellow hue.
On top of that, there are numerous natural hot springs found throughout the region which are perfect for relaxing and resting weary legs for hikers and non-hikers alike.
The mountains also cater for history buffs as the iconic Rila Monastery is nestled deep in Rila’s alpine forests. This 10th century Orthodox Church is famous for its colourful architecture and beautiful fortress like exterior that will stop anyone in their tracks.
Where to stay: There are plenty of unique places to stay in the mountain resorts including this hotel in Borovets.
Kotor in Montenegro
Where: Montenegro is a Balkan country next to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania and Croatia. The country is dotted with rugged mountains, medieval villages, and incredible beaches.
Why: The Bay of Kotor, also known as Boka, is home to a UNESCO World Heritage listed old town surrounded by 5km of city walls built into the steep hillside by the Venetians to protect it from invaders. One of the best things to do, is hike from the bay to The Castle of San Giovanni, so you can get a panoramic view of the area. Other popular spots in Montenegro include Herceg Novi, Durmitor National Park, and Budhva on the Adriatic Sea.
Don’t miss: The fresh seafood. I had some of the best mussels of my life whilst exploring the coastline of Montenegro.
Where to stay: The views from this amazing boutique hotel, are to die for.
Tallinn in Estonia
Where: Tallinn, Estonia’s capital is located on the Baltic coast, and is the country’s cultural hub. It is connected to Latvia and Lithuania by bus, and can be visited by ferry in only two hours from Helsinki in Finland.
Why: It is one of Europe’s newest capitals, and boasts a rich mix of architecture and culture in a small geographic area. Its cobblestoned Old Town was almost untouched by war and remains perfectly preserved. Outside the city walls there are beguiling districts of brightly painted wooden houses, parks, redeveloped docks, beaches and forests.
Don’t miss: Other than roaming around the city’s Old Town, you can visit the forests or take a surf lesson at the white sand beaches, located only 10 minutes bus ride from the city centre.
Where to stay: This hotel located in the city centre is a great choice.
Matka Canyon in Macedonia
Where: Matka Canyon is located 30 minutes from the capital, Skopje which was controversially redesigned in 2014. The government spent €500m remodelling the city and erecting countless statues. However if you look beyond the modern facade and visit Matka Canyon you will get more of a feel for the real Macedonia.
Why: Matka is a hotspot for hikers, and those who love watersports. This tropical area feels more like Vietnam or Mexico than Eastern Europe! Macedonia is one the best hidden gems in the Balkans. With its lively culture, delicious food, picturesque villages and rich history, it’s a perfect destination that will please any traveler who loves visiting off the beaten path places.
Don’t miss: Rent a kayak and explore the waterways, there is no current so it is a pretty gentle activity. However if you have the energy, hike 30 minutes to the St. Nikola Monastery, where you’ll have sweeping views of the canyon.
Where to stay: As Matka Canyon is only a half day or full day trip, you can stay in Skopje, these apartments are well rated.
Castleton in Peak District UK
Where: Castleton village in the Peak District is easily reached by train from Sheffield in 30 minutes. Sheffield can be reached from most major cities in the UK, including London in only two hours.
In fact, the Peak District is centrally located, which in turn makes it the most accessible National Park in the UK. It spans 555 square miles and is situated within five counties, Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
Why: Castleton is surrounded by amazing Peak District hikes, such as Mam Tor viewpoint or Winnats Pass. Other popular activities include cycling, rock climbing, paragliding (if the winds are high enough) and caving, as Castleton is home to three of the best show caves and caverns in the UK.
Don’t miss: History buffs will love visiting the 11th century ruins of one of England’s earliest Norman fortresses, Peveril Castle which lies in the hills above Castleton village.
Where to stay: You can choose an affordable Peak District Airbnb or stay at the beautiful YHA Castleton Losehill Hall, a gothic mansion set on 27 acres of land.
Saas Fee in Switzerland
Where: Saas-Fee ski resort in the Valais can be reached by bus from Visp. Many international airports have train connections to Visp including Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Milan, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.
Why: This ski resort is popular during the winter month but visiting during the off season in Summer is a great idea. You can try trekking on Langfluh Glacier, hiking to the top of Hanig Alp, or summiting Allalinhorn (4027m).
Don’t miss: Head to Spielboden or the Stafelwald and feed the marmots. These cute critters hibernate during Winter but can be seen throughout Summer exploring the area. Grab a bag of peanuts or carrots and keep your voice down to not scare them.
Where to stay: The five star Walliserhof is the best place to stay in Saas Fee. The rooms are beautiful and there is an amazing spa area to rest your legs after a day in the mountains.
Thessaloniki in Greece
Where: As Greeces second largest city, Thessaloniki is one of the countries most up and coming destinations. Located on the mainland it is in Northern Greece, central Macedonia.
Why: I have visited the city twice in the last few years, and explored the White Tower of Thessaloniki, the beautiful promenade, and the astonishing monasteries in Meteora that are reminiscent of Bhutan.
You should also take a day trip to discover the hidden waterfalls of Mount Olympus, the history of Platamon Castle, the Caribbean blue seas of Pieria and the preserved village of Palaios Panteleimona.
Don’t miss: Thessaloniki is known for its cuisine from gyros, to cones filled with custard, and the birthplace of the this city is great for street food.
Where to stay: Thessaloniki has lots of cool places to stay including Onoma Hotel, with themed rooms and its own basketball court and rooftop pool.
Riga in Latvia
Where: Riga is the capital of Latvia, a Baltic country in Northern Europe. The city is situated on the Gulf of Riga at the mouth of the Daugava River into the Baltic Sea.
Why: Riga is a mix of old Gothic churches, wooden and medieval buildings, and exquisite Art Nouveau architecture. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to Europe’s Largest Market.
Don’t miss: Kayaking at night through the canals of Riga. This fun activity lets you explore the city from a different angle, exploring Riga’s illuminated bridges and fountains along the way. This excursion also has something for animal lovers as you’ll be able to spot families of beavers from your kayaks.
Where to stay: Stay in the old town, Riga is fairly small and can be walked around easily these apartments are a great choice.
Wernigerode in Germany
Where: Wernigerode is a hidden gem, found at the foothills of the Harz region of Germany.
Why: This small town of 35,000 people, makes it fairly unknown to tourists but the medieval town is filled with colourful half-timbered houses, a unique 16th-century Gothic town hall (Rathaus) and a charming main square that is often home to a local market.
Wernigerode is also home to a romantic 12th-century baroque castle that was once a medieval fortress. It towers 300ft above the town and offers panoramic views of the quaint city.
However one of the main reasons people visit Wernigerode is to visit the Brocken, the highest and most famous mountain in the Harz. You can spend the day hiking up there or take a steam train ride for 1 hour 40min. At the top, there is a great view of the Harz area, as well as a hotel, restaurant, theatre, and botanical garden.
Don’t miss: If you’re looking for an adrenaline pumping activity, then catch a bus to the Titan RT bridge, which is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. It is situated 100 meters above Germany’s highest reservoir, Rappbode Dam, and its possible to zip-line across or bungee jump off the bridge.
Where to stay: Stay at the Travel Charme Hotel Gothisches Haus, it is located on the historic market square right next to the photogenic town hall.
Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Where: Situated on the Neretva River, Mostar is one of the most visited places in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in medieval times. Now the Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why: Mostar is nicknamed the “City of Sunshine” as it is the sunniest and hottest cities in Europe. It is one of the prettiest cities in the Balkans, and is close to the small village of Pocitelj. Its origins are from the late 14th century, and there is a combination of medieval and Ottoman architecture. Počitelj is wrapped in fortified walls and houses a mosque with unparalleled views across the rocky landscape.
Don’t miss: Watching the jumpers on the Old Bridge. Since 1664 locals have been diving off the bridge into the river, and today this tradition still holds.
Where to stay: This stunning hotel is right in the thick of it and is steps away from the bridge.
Helsinki in Finland
Where: Helsinki is located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. It can be reached by plane, train, bus or you can even jump on a two hour ferry from Tallinn, Estonia.
Why: Helsinki has it all from colourful streets to quirky museums, local cuisines and saunas on every corner. Design is at the heart of the city, as well as nature which makes up more than a third of the capital.
Don’t miss: Helsinki is surrounded by countless islands, including the historical sea fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This enchanting isle is characterised by its rugged coastline, and is only 20 mins ferry ride from Helsinki, yet it feels like another world.
Where to stay: The city is very well connected and it is easy to get around by bus, so where you stay is not too important, but I loved staying in the Kluuvi district.